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In Recent Talks, DREAMers' Fate Is Tied To Immigration Overhaul


That memo made public Friday alleging FBI bias may be the most hotly-discussed story out of Washington this weekend, but another critical one is just ahead. On Thursday, Congress is faced with another deadline and the possibility of - yes - another government shutdown. That's because February 8th is the day when lawmakers must agree on a spending bill to keep their federal government open. To find out more, we're joined now by Senator Brian Schatz. He's a Democrat from Hawaii.

Welcome, Senator. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

BRIAN SCHATZ: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Well, as we understand it, much of this dispute still hinges on the future of DACA. That's the program protecting some 700,000 young immigrants from deportation. The president says he's willing to renew DACA, but only if he gets 25 billion dollars to build a border wall. So first of all, do you have any reason to believe that you all can work this out?

SCHATZ: Well, I think we're now on separate but parallel tracks. My expectation is that we will be able to avoid a shutdown. We are getting closer and closer to a bipartisan agreement when it comes to both defense and nondefense spending, so that's one side of this. When it comes to the president's proposal on immigration, we need 60 votes in the Senate, and it wouldn't get close to 50. And that's because, suddenly, about three weeks ago, legal immigration became on the chopping block as a result of this conversation around DREAMers. Now, in exchange for taking care of the DREAMers, they are talking about permanent changes in American immigration policy, cutting the number of legal immigrants coming into the United States by half, and we're not going to negotiate away American immigration policy because they are holding the DREAMers hostage.

MARTIN: You are among those who voted to reopen the government and end the shutdown last month, and there are a number of critics from your party who say that, by reopening the government, the Democrats gave up any leverage that the Democrats had. What do you say about that?

SCHATZ: Well, I say - I understand the passion and the desperation that folks feel. But listen. I think there is no way that Mitch McConnell would have agreed to take up this legislation on February 8 were it not for us standing firm. The foundational problem right now is that although you have Republicans saying they want to solve the DREAMer problem, they've essentially decided to use the DREAMers as leverage to get changes in immigration policy that were not even contemplated in the campaign, let alone over the last several months.

MARTIN: The question, I think remains, is are you prepared to allow the government to be shut down again?

SCHATZ: I don't think that that's the right tactic in the short run, but I do not think that the only leverage that the minority party in the Senate has is to shut down the government. But we would be unwise to express publicly exactly where those leverage points are other than to say that my own judgment is that shutdowns do not work. I have never seen an instance where a government shutdown was successful except at the margins.

MARTIN: That's Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii. We reached him in Honolulu. Senator, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SCHATZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.